Motherhood in the Wilderness

When I was in the 6th grade, my class went to a nature retreat for the weekend. The intention of this retreat was to teach us wilderness survival skills: how to start a campfire, read a map, find the north star, identify dangerous plants, etc. Heading up north, I felt pretty confident about my abilities as I am a lifetime tent camper whose mom was her girl scout leader. Even with all my experience, however, when dropped off in the middle of the woods with a friend and a compass, I got seriously lost. So lost that when we finally found our way out of the forest, we were over 30 minutes late to the “meet up” and they’d already sent out throngs of adults to look for us. We had whistles to alert camp staff to our location, but we’d gone so far away, they couldn’t hear. And honestly, that was not the last time I would get lost in the woods while holding a compass and blowing a whistle.

I’m not sure how many of you have ever been lost in a forest but it is a strange experience. One minute you’re enjoying a peaceful stroll down the unbeaten path, the next minute you’re feeling a cold tingle down your spine and the thought pops into your head: “I have no idea where I am right now.”

My personal experiences as a mother and a lost hiker are alarmingly similar. Most days I feel confident about my ability to successfully lead my children through the day unscathed and dressed in pants and shirts that actually match, then there are other days where I feel out of my depth, even with a few solid parenting tools. Where is that damn whistle?!

Then you add the additional pressure of a job to get to, a house to clean, meals to make, and a partner to snuggle; motherhood becomes more like running through the forest being chased by a bear, you dropped the compass a mile ago, somehow you managed to step in a puddle of mud so your feet are wet and dirty, and you’re developing a side cramp.

And there’s bees.

But no whistle.

Let’s be real: motherhood is amazing and it can be tough. One moment you’re being smothered by kiddo kisses, the next you’re scraping poop off of numerous surfaces. They love you. They hate you. The scream, “go away” and “come back” in the same breath. And this doesn’t even begin to tap into the guilt we feel when we’re trying to get some extra work done as they ask us: “Hey Mom, can you help me with my homework?”. Or the guilt we feel for cleaning our house instead of sending that email or writing that report. You stay up way past your bedtime just to finish the last of the day’s tasks…tasks which never end, they are simply completed for a moment then return to the top of the list the next day. Sure, we have tools to help guide us through but sometimes when we’re tired, stressed, and our teenager just got sent home from school for behavioral issues, tools don’t seem to cut it. Exhaustion, annoyance, and frustration can creep in and make an already challenging day feel isolating and hopeless.

Whatever the age and number of your children, whatever work you do, in home and out, whether you do it alone or with a partner, whether you buy all organic and cook your meals from scratch or hit up the Chik-Fil-A drive thru more than you’d like to admit: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Many of us are stumbling through motherhood like a lost hiker in the wilderness, hoping that we find someone else who can help us trudge through the remainder of our journey.

As a clinician, one of the most impactful things I’ve observed in a client’s journey of change is their support system: the larger and more connected it is, the more movement they experience in a shorter amount of time. If this post struck a chord in you, I’d encourage you to take some time to self-reflect: why do you feel this was impactful to you? How do you feel you’re doing as a person, as a partner, as a parent, or as a friend? Have you felt a little lost and alone lately? Do you have a support system that you can tap in to for companionship in your own journey? For me, when I’ve felt my most alone, I reach for those who will sit with me in my hopelessness and just be present. If you read this paragraph and thought, “Well, I don’t have a support system to lean in to”, I would encourage you to look for a local mom’s group. Often times they can be found by searching on social media, calling local churches and community organizations, or even contacting a local mommy and baby store.

If you are local to Kansas City,  a fellow therapist, Teressa Thurwanger, and I are hosting a workshop for mothers titled Motherhood in the Wilderness. If you’d like to join us, you can sign up here! Want more information about this workshop? Check out the information page on my group website for additional info or contact me through the contact page.

Was this piece impactful for you? Feel free to leave a comment! I welcome comments on my posts and encourage open, respectful and purposeful dialogue. I reserve the right to delete comments that insult, degrade, or shame other commenters.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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